Of course, everything about a night turned into morning of basketball had been mad. Now some of his Notre Dame teammates were screaming and hugging in the eye of the swarm at midcourt, but Connaughton stayed on the periphery. Near the bench, walking on a bum ankle, the sophomore waved his arms slowly up and down. He was asking, of all things, for more.
"I've never been a part of anything like that," Connaughton said, reclined against a locker room wall, his right leg propped up on three chairs and his ankle swathed in ice. "I've never been part of something where we could say we pretty much lost the game yesterday and won it today. That was something incredible."
The longest game a Notre Dame men's basketball team has ever played was the seventh game in the last 11 meetings between the Irish and Cardinals that required overtime. None bent the limits of belief like this.
Jerian Grant had zero field goals for 39-plus minutes and then detonated for 12 points in the final 45 seconds to defibrillate No. 25 Notre Dame (19-5, 7-4 Big East), erase an eight-point deficit and force the first extra session. Freshman Cameron Biedscheid, who played 50 minutes off the bench, drained a game-tying 3-pointer with 15 seconds left in the second overtime to push it to a third.
Garrick Sherman, who plunged out of the rotation and did not play in the previous two games, sat for the first 43 minutes and then finished with 17 points and six rebounds, including a tying tip-in with 5.1 seconds left in the fourth overtime. And Eric Atkins and Connaughton, playing a combined 116 minutes, scored the last six points of the night before another Russ Smith buzzer-beater went awry for No. 11 Louisville (19-5, 7-4) to incite the on-court riot.
"I've been coaching for a long time," Irish coach Mike Brey said, "and you can count on one hand the ones where you go, 'That's magical.'"
Enchantment seemed to begin early Saturday, with the ESPN College GameDay carnival in town and a student hitting a half-court shot worth $18,000 to him, a heave that created the first mob scene on the Purcell Pavilion floor. But, actually, it traced back a night earlier, to the team hotel and a different version of screening.
The manager for Mike Lee, a professional boxer and Notre Dame graduate, met up with Brey on the sideline of the football team's October game against Miami at Soldier Field. He said he had an ideal DVD for Brey to show his team: A montage of famous boxing knockouts, capped by a shot of Muhammad Ali standing over a downed foe, arms raised.
Brey played it for the team Friday night. He told them the game with Louisville was just another boxing match, punches thrown and punches absorbed, a true 15-rounder. When the Irish showed up for the game on Saturday, each of the 13 players found a pair of black boxing gloves with yellow laces sitting on the chair at his locker stall.
"We're like, aw, no matches go 15 rounds," Irish center Jack Cooley said. "And then we played five overtimes today. That's absurd."
Said Grant: "A lot of people, when they think about Notre Dame, they think about 3-point shooters and not really toughness. Coach gave us the boxing gloves and was like, 'Here, show them how tough you guys are.'"
It was show time, all right. Notre Dame slogged through early offensive woes to somehow manage a halftime lead, then the malaise truly set in as the Irish missed 16 of 19 shots to start the second half. They went 10-plus minutes without a field goal. They lost their All-Big East bulwark center when Cooley got tagged with a fifth foul on a profoundly questionable call with seven minutes to play.
Notre Dame remained down eight points with 51 seconds remaining. Grant, to that moment, had zero field goals. It was a night he and Atkins set out to prove themselves against Louisville's tenacious duo of Smith and Peyton Siva. And here he was, at one point yanked after a turnover and encountering a brief message from Brey as he approached the bench: "Just slow down."
Grant was frustrated, and that angst bubbled over to barking at teammates for not getting him the ball in the final minutes. Then, with 45 seconds left, the junior guard rose up and drained a 3-pointer from the wing. Nine seconds later, he hit another. Eight seconds later, he hit another.
After two missed free throws by Louisville's Gorgui Dieng and hope at a boil in the place, Grant drove to the rim and finished while getting fouled. He sank the free throw with 16.1 seconds left. Twelve points in, really, a half-minute, to stoke the Irish and rattle the roof tiles.
"Never seen anything like that," Brey said.
"That was one of the more incredible things I've seen happen in sports," Connaughton said.
"It rivals the Reggie Miller thing," Cooley said.
"From there, I just thought we were going to win the game no matter what, after what he pulled off," Atkins said.
There was just no other option, as far as Grant was concerned, in every way.
"The first thing was, I do not want to lose this game," Grant said. "After I made the first one, my confidence kept going. My teammates gave me the confidence. They said, Jerian, get the ball and go do something with it."
There would be so much more to it. So much more. Grant fouled out with two minutes left in the first overtime, leaving the Irish down two starters, and they muddled through a shot clock violation late as Louisville's Smith settled for an out-of-this-ZIP-code 3-pointer at the buzzer that rimmed out.
And on it went. Biedscheid saved Notre Dame in the second overtime, with Louisville missing twice on its final possession. Smith missed another potential game-winner in overtime No. 3. And then it was Sherman, Notre Dame's forgotten man, who scored four straight to end the fourth overtime after the Irish were down two scores inside of a minute left.
The 6-foot-11 transfer was to be the first big man off the bench for the Irish this year, a complement to Cooley. Eventually production woes begat confidence woes and Tom Knight and freshman Zach Auguste usurped his minutes. Sherman was left to extra conditioning sessions with Irish assistant Rod Balanis, anything to keep his touch honed in case of emergency.
"It's been frustrating, I won't lie to you," Sherman said. "But everybody on this team has a role. Tom's been stepping up and that's who we rode with. I wasn't upset about it. I was cheering for him just as hard as I was cheering for everybody else. That's just what our team does. Everybody who needs to play steps up."
In the fifth overtime, there was Atkins, a 60-minute man worked to the marrow, barreling into the lane for two key buckets.
He and Connaughton, who grinded through an ankle sprain suffered at the end of the first half to finish with 16 points and 14 rebounds in 56 minutes, hit one free throw apiece inside of 20 seconds to play. Everyone was then left to watch one more run by Smith, one more heave to the rim, one more moment with thousands of breaths caught in thousands of throats.
It missed, and the night had just begun.
Students flooded the court, met by Notre Dame players jet-propelled off the bench. The Irish came into the game seeking legitimacy, a team laying claim to greatness but so far failing to validate that. It was the last time a truly top-shelf team would visit Purcell Pavilion this year, and unlike the relatively sparse GameDay crowd, Notre Dame couldn't be a no-show.
"We wanted a win tonight for a statement, and because we kind of thought we needed it," Connaughton said.
Said Brey: "The one thing I told our team before we went out the last time, I said, this nucleus, when there's been hyped up games -- Syracuse last year, Kentucky earlier this year -- they've delivered on these stages, in this building, when there's a lot expected. I thought they did that. They just kept finding ways. Something like this you can certainly build on. We're going to use that to build our confidence and toughness and never feel we're out of it."
As the band played and students danced, Connaughton and Atkins found each other and embraced. They didn't let go, walking arm-in-arm at a deliberate pace back to the Irish locker room. After some intravenous fluids and ice packs, they each laughed and wondered if they'd have made it without the other.
At about 12:20 a.m. CT, Connaughton reemerged onto the court and met his parents on what had been the Irish's bench. He hugged his mother, Susan. There was little chatter. He was arguably too tired to talk. Connaughton began to leave when his mother grew concerned about how bundled up he was, telling her son, "You'll get a cold."
The sophomore paused for a moment, then continued his slow walk up the ramp and through the tunnel and toward the doors. What was one more thing to endure, on a night like this.